Above: A troop marches into the Stadium Show at the 2013 Jamboree held in Mount Hope, West Virginia.
With its emphasis on integrity and leadership, the Boy Scouts of America attracts dedicated fundraisers from the metals sphere
August 2014 - Every year, on a single night in May, the metals industry comes together to promote something outside its products and services by investing in the growth and development of Chicago area youth.
The 2014 Metals Industry Dinner, held May 1, was the culmination of a year’s worth of work by the Boy Scouts of America, Chicago Area Council, and a volunteer committee representing some of the largest names in the steel business.
Many members of the committee have been at it—raising money, that is—five years, 10 years, 15 years, following in the footsteps of predecessors that launched this annual event 44 years ago.
The event, easily the largest one-night gathering of metals people in North America, raises $500,000 to $550,000 in the post-recession era. Most of the proceeds go to the council’s programming, including summer camp at Owasippe, the BSA’s oldest continually operating Scout reservation.
This dinner and a second dinner held by the construction trades are the two largest revenue generators for the Chicago Area Council outside endowments.
The companies that buy the tables and tickets to the annual dinner view it as part of broader community-based philanthropy and outreach efforts, but Scouting seems to hold a special place for the industry.
“Our company is involved in every community where we have a plant,” says Tammy Olt, senior regional sales manager for Lisle, Illinois-based SSAB Americas, who has been on the committee for 13 years. “It makes sense that we also support Boy Scouts. We have employees who were Eagle Scouts, troop and pack leaders, so we know that it makes for great training ground.”
Contributing to society
According to Olt, “Scouting teaches children—in the inner city and everywhere—discipline, self esteem, respect, goal setting and hard work. These are things children really need and which they might not always get at home. It helps boys develop into thoughtful, well-rounded young men contributing to society.”
Jon Romanovich, district sales manager for Nucor Cold Finish Group, also sits on the metals industry dinner committee. His father, Tony Romanovich, supported Boy Scouts while senior vice president at Bliss & Laughlin Industries Inc.
“He did this Boy Scout thing back when it was just a lunch. As a kid I remember being proud of him. As I started in the steel business and he was still involved, I understood what it meant. He received the Good Scout Award. I went to every dinner for the last 15 years and, at each one, I felt a sense of pride because of my father’s commitment.”
“I was a Boy Scout, too,” Romanovich continues. “I never really thought I would be part of the committee, but I respected their work. When Paul [Ioriatti, vice president of EMJ’s Chicago region] asked me to join, I was flattered. And Nucor said I should absolutely go for it.”
Nucor’s commitment to Scouts extends to numerous locations. Employees of Nucor’s Tuscaloosa, Alabama, steel complex, host an annual golf outing fundraiser for local troops, for example.
Chris Tokarz, supervisor at General Recycling of Ohio, a Nucor subsidiary in Marion, Ohio, is Scoutmaster of Troop 843. “My father was a Scout leader when I was growing up and I was a Scout myself,” he says. His 14-year-old son, Wiley, belongs to Troop 843.
“The bottom line is BSA is a fantastic program. We try to teach the boys about citizenship, character and responsibility, which helps them in school and in their jobs, and makes good people out of them. I saw that through my own experience and now have the opportunity to share that with my son.”
It also offers adventure, he says, citing his troop’s wilderness survival training, frequent campouts—even in winter—and a weeklong sailing, snorkeling and fishing trip in the Florida Keys.
Brad Serlin, president of United Scrap Metal in Cicero, Illinois, says the annual dinner “shows the metals industry is about more than just business; there’s community leadership.”
Founded by Brad’s mother, Marsha Serlin, USM has been raising money for youth in the Chicago area since its startup. The biggest beneficiary is Ronald MacDonald House, which is home away from home for parents of hospitalized children. Local Scout troops are among the children’s groups that raise funds by collecting beverage can tabs and bringing them into USM’s yard by the thousands.
“The Boy Scouts are a great cause,” says Serlin, who also serves on the Metals Industry Dinner committee.
Multiple Scout troops have toured United Scrap Metal. “Part of Scouting is a commitment to the environment, which ties to recycling,” he says. “We are all about preserving natural resources. Eagle Scouts have worked with United Scrap Metal to perform cleanup and community recycling projects.”
Lori Hahn, regional sales manager for Steel Dynamics Inc., chaired the committee this year.
“I love working on the Boy Scout event. It is a lot of work but very rewarding,” she says. As a member for 13 years, “I am dedicated to the committee and the cause. If you are going to commit to something, it has to be 100 percent or not at all. As a result of my role on the committee, I am even further inspired. I felt like this event was quite a victory and I am very proud of our entire committee for all their hard work.”
SDI’s relationship with Scouting goes far up the executive ladder.
Tommy Scruggs, sales manager-Flat Rolled Group, has served in several Scouting leadership roles over the past 10 years, and now sits on the executive board for the Anthony Wayne Area Council in Northeast Indiana. He is also active in his youngest son’s Cub Scout pack as well as a local Boy Scout troop where Bill Wyant, who works at the Columbia City, Indiana, mill, is committee chair.
Even CEO Mark Millett has a connection. During his boyhood in the United Kingdom, Millett achieved the rank of Queen’s Scout, the highest youth award achievable in the Scouting movement in the country.
Mark Lambert, district manager for AK Steel Corp., West Chester, Ohio, joined the metals dinner committee 15 years ago. Soon after he moved back to Chicago in 1996, he attended the Boy Scouts dinner. An AK Steel colleague sat on the executive committee and, by 1999, “I was involved beside him. When he moved on to another job, I took over.”
Lambert was a Boy Scout up until high school. “It was a positive experience for me, and I believe in what Scouting stands for. I still have my Scout handbook, copyright 1968.”
Ioriatti, Olt, Lambert and Lambert’s boss, AK Steel chairman and CEO James Wainscott, have each won the Good Scout Award for their support of the organization.
To see and be seen
Of course, there is a business advantage to participating in any philanthropic event. In this case, nine of 10 people who attend the annual metals dinner are there for networking. ”You block your calendar because you have to be there,” Hahn says.
Romanovich agrees. “This is the most important metals event in Chicago. It has become a who’s who. Everyone is there and if you’re not there, it gets noticed.”
On the other hand, appreciation for the cause is widespread. When Ioriatti was on stage and asked the crowd, “‘If you were in Scouting, please stand,’ I was floored at how many stood up,” says Hahn.
“The week after the dinner I was visiting one of my Chicago-area customers and the vice president walked up and shook my hand. He told me he was an Eagle Scout and that he was very moved by the fact there were so many former Scouts at the dinner. I suspect that the others who stood up were equally moved by this acknowledgement. This is another reward for involvement.”
In the future, “we will involve those people in our efforts to raise money because they have a deep passion and purpose,” she says.
The metals industry is no stranger to competition. That ethos extends to the executive committee members setting fundraising goals each year.
“No one is allowed to pledge less than the year before and we are each expected to do better,” says SSAB’s Olt. “Sometimes the goal feels like pie in the sky but we routinely hit the goal and exceed it,” except for a couple years early in the recession.
“We are all very committed to that [annual] goal. It’s friendly competition. If we think we wouldn’t be able to sell a table and somebody else has a better relationship [with a targeted company], they’ll work on them for you,” she explains.
In his first year on the committee, Romanovich represented Nucor Bar Group and Tim Hill represented the Sheet Mill Group. “Together we set a fundraising goal. Tim exceeded his goal by 40 percent and I missed mine by 10 percent but, together, Nucor exceeded the goal.”
At his first meeting, Serlin “didn’t know where the fundraising goal should be,” so the figure chosen was $50,000. “I was the laughingstock of the meeting. ‘There is no way. What is he thinking?’” he surmised his peers were wondering. “But I raised over $50,000 the first year. Others thought I was crazy but I didn’t know any better.”
Since then, United Scrap Metal initiated a prize drawing to raise yet more money from vendors, customers and friends. “Every year we are one of the top fundraisers,” Serlin says.
As the 2014 event chairperson, Hahn’s job was to “motivate everyone to meet and exceed their pledge. In a strong market it is much easier to meet those goals and there is overwhelming generosity. However, there have been years when companies didn’t have $3,000 to $5,000 to invest in Scouting,” she says.
In the Chicago Area Council, “all of us are professionals, and competitors, but we all know each other,” says Romanovich. “We all know this industry is a tough business but we’re tough people and we respect each other’s professionalism. I did not meet my own goal, but I fully intend to make it next year.”
The 2015 Metals Industry Dinner will be held May 7 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel Chicago. MM